There’s a certain point in parenting when you need to accept that you are no longer steering the rudder or controlling the prop and that the best you can hope for is that you’re still in the front of the ship in the navigator’s seat instead. “You’d do best to turn left here, cap’n, to avoid the reef” is about as good as it gets once your children hit their teens.
I’ve always likened parenting to ship building, actually. When they’re young, you’re building the ship, but you’re building it on the launch ramp, always keeping one eye on the harbor waters that they’re eventually going to have to figure out themselves. Once they hit adolescence, it’s time to break that proverbial bottle of champagne over the prow and let them slip down the ramp into the waters, confident that they’ll have smooth sailing on the calm days and hoping they’ll stay afloat when the waters get turbulent.
The important thing is that as your children grow, you’re less and less in control of their decisions and lives. And that’s a good thing because it’s the path for them to become smart, successful, healthy adults down the road.
Nonetheless, the journey towards them being successful, self-directed adults can be stressful too, as you watch them make bad decisions and have to suffer through the consequences. The easiest cause and effect sequence is drinking and hangovers, of course, but fortunately that’s not something we face (yet?) with my kids.
Instead the experience with my 17yo daughter is about school. At the beginning of last school year she ended up switching from the school she’s attended since kindergarten to a self-paced online high school program for 11th grade. And she’s still not done with her classes. In fact, she hit her 10mo deadline a few weeks ago having completed exactly one of her seven courses.
She’s not the first to have this challenge, so the school has been very flexible, offering 8-day extensions without charge for courses she’d reached 80% in, and, for a fee, 30-day extensions for other courses where she’d attained at least 60% completion. We barely squeaked by that mark for all her courses and that was anxiety provoking.
Today she’s facing four substantial courses still left to complete, one of which we have a tutor to help her with and three of which she’s on her own with. To make things more interesting she’s off on a trip with her Mom tomorrow morning for 11 days and 12th grade starts up in three weeks. Oh, and by the time school starts she needs to have completed a 20-page paper about her recent trip to Bonaire.
So it’s been extraordinarily difficult to watch her socialize with friends last night, including staying up until almost 2am talking, then this morning playing video games on the Wii with her brother and their friends. All the while these deadlines loom over her.
It’s really like watching a slow-motion train wreck…
While part of me wants to unplug the Wii, send the friends home and shove her into a chair with her computer and school books in front of her, the reality is that I’m no longer piloting this vessel and if she’s going to end up crashing on the shore, it’s her responsibility and her consequence.
And that’s really, really hard to watch.
To be fair, I absolutely expect it’ll work out and that she’ll finish up her 11th grade studies and be able to proceed directly into 12th grade. She’s a smart cookie! But waiting to the very last minute for everything (she finished one set of class assignments less than 25min before the deadline yesterday) and being perpetually stressed and overwhelmed by those choices? Ugh.